16 June 2022
Emil Jeyaratnam

The last Open Data Insights looked at the Australian Data StrategyExternal Link , which outlines a national vision to unlock the economic and social potential of data, and support Australia’s transition to becoming a data-driven economy. The Data Strategy is a key part of the Digital Economy Strategy. Another important component of the overall strategy is the Data Availability and Transparency (DAT) ActExternal Link .

The DAT Act commits government jurisdictions to share data more effectively with each other. In this ODI, we will look at the data sharing scheme and what it means for government bodies and citizens.

The Data Availability and Transparency Act

The Data Availability and Transparency (DAT) Act 2022 authorises Australian Government bodies to share public sector data with accredited users for specific purposes. The DAT Act significantly expands how government data can be collected, shared and used.

However, the sharing is limited to state and federal government jurisdictions, and researchers from Australian universities. Expanding access to Australian private industry will be reviewed in 2025 (the original bill allowed access to the private sector, but this has been scaled back through amendments).

The DAT Act is overseen by the Office of the National Data Commissioner (ONDC)External Link .

What the DAT Act means for government

The term public sector data refers to data that is created, collected or held by the government. The DAT Act allows Commonwealth public sector data to be shared across different government entities, as well as with State and Territory government bodies, and Australian universities. The DAT Act does not apply to intelligence (eg. ASIO, ASIS, etc) and law enforcement agencies (eg. AFP, ABF, etc).

The motivation of the Act is to remove unnecessary barriers to sharing data between entities. These barriers hinder or overly complicate service delivery, create extra burden on citizens, slow innovation and make it difficult to derive insights. By removing these barriers, public sector data can be used to drive innovation, evaluate and improve government policies and programs, and provide better government services.

Who can access the data and why?

Public sector data will only be shared under strict controls to ensure the data and people’s privacy are protected from misuse. Before data is approved for sharing, the entity requesting the data must have valid reasons for access. Users of the data will also need to demonstrate they can protect the data and safeguard personal information.

Data can be shared for the following reasons:

  1. For research and development that is in the public interest
  2. To design, run or evaluate government policies and programs
  3. To deliver public services

Under the scheme, data cannot be shared with the private sector, foreign entities or individuals. Also worth noting is that the DAT Act does not override the Privacy ActExternal Link , and the data will be subject to existing privacy protections.

The 5 safeguarding principles

Data sharing under the DAT Act is regulated and prevents the sharing of data for things like targeted marketing or criminal investigations. The Act protects data (and citizens) through 5 safeguarding principles:

  1. Project — data is shared for an appropriate project or program of work
  2. People — data is made available only to appropriate persons
  3. Setting — data is shared in an appropriately controlled environment
  4. Data — appropriate protections are applied to data
  5. Outputs — the intended outputs are as agreed

These principles help guide government agencies to make the right decisions on when and how datasets are shared. The principles provide guidance for data custodians to ensure the project, users and setting are appropriate for the data and intended outputs.

The Act also ensures any published outputs do not put people in harm. For example, outputs will need to be de-identified so that personal identifiers are not made public. More complicated data (e.g. with lots of private details) will have more controls, and if the data cannot be adequately protected, then it should not be shared.

When the data is deemed to be shareable and the various agencies agree on the method of sharing and safeguards, this is formalised in a data sharing agreementExternal Link ; signed agreements will be published publicly.

The implications of the DAT Act

The last few years have seen people needing to request various government payments due to the pandemic, bushfires and floods. People have had to deal with different departments and agencies, and provide similar information multiple times, to access payments and services.

The DAT Act makes possible the “tell us once” approach, where people provide their details once to access what they need, irrespective of how many government services or departments they are dealing with. Data sharing will also enable forms to be pre-filled (similar to how the ATO uses your details to pre-fill tax details). This will save time and increase accuracy of the data.